Kevin Fowler

Kevin Fowler

Reflection is the catalyst to coming full circle.

Texas country singer-songwriter Kevin Fowler took a couple of years to take stock of his artistic career, launch his own record label, then write and record How Country Are Ya? the old-fashioned way.

How Country Are Ya? – Fowler’s seventh studio album and his first for Kevin Fowler Records in a joint venture with Nashville’s Thirty Tigers - is the goodtiming, tradition-steeped and honky-tonk-stomping Amarillo native’s return to basics effort. A year in the making, the album features 15 fresh tunes (he wrote
all of them except for the raucous instrumental “Mousturdonus“) and was produced by Ken Tondre, Fowler’s drummer, at Tondre’s The Compound Recording Studio in Austin.

One of the most potent songs on How Country Are Ya? is “Panhandle Poorboy,” a completely autobiographical piece that’s clearly the centerpiece of Fowler’s mindset during the creation of the disc. Simply put, he wanted to come back home.

“The last couple of records have been on Nashville record labels,” Fowler said, referring to 2007’s Bring It On, released on Equity Music Group, and 2011’s Chippin’ Away, released on Average Joe’s Entertainment.

“But this one is on my own label with my buddies like we used to make records. I wanted to feel right at home, go back to the well, and not get into any outside influences. I really felt like I wanted to make music closer to all my anthems that people scream along to at shows.”

Plus, How Country Are Ya? is chock full of Texas-centric collaborations. Earl Dibbles Jr., the alter-ego of Dallas-bred Granger Smith, provides the disc’s nononsense intro. Amy Rankin, one half of Austin’s The Rankin Twins, croons with Fowler on the emotionally evocative number “Before Somebody Gets Hurt.” San Antonio’s Grammy winners Los Texmaniacs crank up the South-of-the-border ambiance of “Borracho Grande.” Kingwood, Texas’ rebel-rouser Davin James
lends his big personality to the hilarious “Chicken Wing.” And Huntsville, Texas newcomer Cody Johnson stirs straight-up country action on “Guitars and Guns.”

See? Told ya Fowler threw a studio party with his good friends and turned it into a record. But of course the first single, “How Country Are Ya?,” is quintessential Fowler. The song crackles with all the beer joint energy that characterizes every
creative fiber in Kevin Fowler’s body.

The point behind each lyric, each guitar lick, and each twanging-rocking melody is the live show. Fowler has earned his reputation as one of the most amped-up concert performers to emerge from the modern day Texas country movement.
For those that have experienced Fowler onstage, then you know he brings unbridled musical muscle to the platform. Backed by his trusty band he’s a dynamo – cracking jokes, hitting high notes, strumming his guitar and putting each of his fans in two-stepping mode.

“From day one I realized I couldn’t control what radio played and what video channels played, but the one thing I could control every night was the live show,”Fowler said. “The musicians want to be there, the fans want to be there and I want to be there. People can listen to the CDs at home. But if they come to the
shows they are ready to have a good time for an hour-and-a-half, forget about their problems and forget about work on Monday.”

Pretty much any city in Texas belongs to Fowler, but he will immediately point out that he is quickly growing in Oklahoma and throughout the Midwest, all the way up to Chicago.

“I get a big kick out of seeing the way it has spread now across the country. It’s really cool how we’ve come so far. I remember a time when Texas country music didn’t have as long a reach.”

Enter social media. Fowler boasts more than 270,000 Facebook likes and 34,000-plus cool Twitter followers. But, most importantly, the percentage of those people who engage Kevin online is higher than nearly any country artist anywhere. For an independent artist like him, that’s crucial to career growth and
sustainment. He knows full well that social media puts bodies in concert seats and creates an imperative rapport with his fans. It is the technological age way for artists to connect with admirers.

“Social media is the biggest part,” Fowler said. “Social media is king. It has impacted my career as significantly as radio. Twenty years ago the only tool you really had was Kinkos to make flyers. This is the biggest piece of the puzzle especially for us now since we don’t have a lot of radio airplay. I can reach my
target audience big time now.”

But naturally even the fiercest honky-tonker needs a little down time. Or should we say outdoors time? Fowler comes from a long line of hunters and fishermen. And if you ask him how often he gets to the hunting grounds and the fishing hole he quickly replies, “Anytime I can!”

How thick is the hunting and fishing blood coursing through Fowler’s veins? You could say it’s totally innate.

“I was born in May and in September of that year I went on my first hunting trip. My dad was a huge bowhunter. I still go bowhunting. That is what we did as a family. We also went on fishing trips every spring break. That made me who I am. It was camping in Colorado, bow hunting in the fall and fishing every spring break. Now it’s all about the camaraderie of friends, getting away, and the freedom of the outdoors.”

“I would have never in a million years thought the Texas music scene would grow to what it is now,” a proud Fowler said. “I was lucky enough to have been there since the inception. I feel proud to have played a part in establishing the scene,in making it what it is. We fought a lot of battles and kicked a lot of doors down.We broke those barriers down back then. And now we are having fun spreading it town by town outside of Texas, just the way we did inside the home state.”

Reflection brought Kevin Fowler full circle.

Cody Johnson

In an time of synthetics and plastics, folks appreciate the real thing. Musically, we look for songs that reach beyond our eardrums, touching our hearts. Cody Johnson's unique blend of Country and Rock does just that.

Many Texas Music fans met Cody Johnson's honest style through the radio singles from his Six Strings, One Dream album: "Nobody to Blame" (#6 on the Texas music charts in 2009); #1"Pray for Rain" (2009 - 2010); and "Texas Kind of Way" (#6, late 2010 – 2011).

At first opening for other artists, Cody has also taken the Texas dance-halls by storm. Increasingly, the Cody Johnson Band is the attraction, and an honest-to-goodness one.

Cody's childhood, though, was different from his rowdy onstage personality. Growing up, home was Sebastopol, a speck on the East Texas piney woods map, the perfect setting for that country boy to roam the woods, hunt, and fish. Home-schooling and family times around the piano provided the kind of life the kind many folks envy. Even Cody's music training started when dad Carl taught him the chords to "I'll Fly Away," a Southern Gospel favorite.

Starting public school as a freshmen, Cody expanded beyond playing the guitar and drums at church. When his "ag science" teacher overheard Cody playing an original song, he convinced Cody to form a band with other FFA (Future Farmers of America) members. A few months later, Cody's band placed "runner-up" in the highly competitive Texas State FFA talent contest.

Cody left the contest realizing he was in love for life: in love with the music, the crowd, and the energy of performing onstage. Beginning in small honky-tonks and bars, he tried different musical styles. Discarding many, today Cody's shows still keep a Garth Brooks-level of energy and a Ronnie Van Zant - outlaw dedication to individual style. Like the late Chris LeDoux's musical beginnings, "CoJo" sold his acoustic CDs from the back of his truck during three years of bull-riding. Cody still shows up today as the true cowboy he is.

After graduation, Johnson worked for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Huntsville. There, supervising prison inmates, Cody confides, "I developed an even greater appreciation for family and friends. Seeing how easy it was to go to prison set me on the 'straight and narrow'."

Also in Huntsville, Cody met Nathan Reedy, who became his new drummer. With Carl Johnson playing bass, the trio began traveling as the Cody Johnson Band. Their first CD, Black & White Label, provided funding for travel and radio promotion - and the assurance that the music dream was real.

Along the way, several popular artists have shared their friendship, fans and wisdom with Cody. Some had business advice and warned him of issues musicians face on the road. The common thread is that other professionals respect Cody as performer, songwriter and individual. In turn, Cody Johnson earns that respect, giving as much effort to an audience of 30 or 30,000. As he states, "I like the crowd to sing along, yell, or whatever makes them feel part of the show. I love big crowds because of the energy and showmanship I can exhibit. I love acoustic shows because of the intimacy and how candid they are. Acoustic shows are like sittin' around the living room 'pickin' and grinnin'."

Winning the Texas' Regional Music Awards as "New Male Vocalist of the Year, 2011," caused Cody to choose whether leave the security of State employment to chase his dreams. So he followed his own advice to "Always pray for direction, and know that no matter what..., the good Lord has a plan."

The answer to that prayer came when Cody's wife Brandi gave her "thumbs-up." As Cody puts it, "When the woman I love - and plan to spend the rest of my life with - told me that she 'stands by her man' and believes in me 100%, I believed even more confidently that I could live my dream. Though I've had lots of people believe, contribute, push and pull me along, no one's efforts affected my decision emotionally the way Brandi's faith in me did."

Cody indeed left his "day job" for the more-than-full-time music career. But, that'swhere the story really begins.

Expanding his boundaries beyond Texas, he flew to Nashville to record a new CD with Nashville studio musicians hand-picked by his "big brother," Nashville-based fellow Texan, Trent Willmon, producer of the new album, A Different Day (released October 31,2011).

Though new to Nashville recording ways, Johnson's musical confidence showed in the Music City recording studio. Together, he and the studio musicians tweaked songs to obtain the exact intended effect. Listening to the Music City veterans, Cody adopted suggestions when they felt right, and would "hang tough" when he felt the music differently.

According to CoJo, "I don't want to be labeled as 'Texas' or 'Nashville.' I am me: Texas, outlaw, cowboy, country, and a God-fearing man using the gift He gave me."

-Billie Willmon Jenkin

There’s no shortage of country music in Crooks’ hometown of Austin, TX. But ask anyone who has crammed into a packed honky-tonk to catch one of their infamously rowdy late-night shows and they’ll tell you there’s something that sets them apart from the rest.

Crooks are breathing new life into decades-old musical traditions, stripping away the polish and shine of modern radio country and replacing it with earnest songs about life, work and pain. Sometimes it’s weary and lonesome, sometimes it’s downright bleak, and oftentimes it’s just reckless fun. Suddenly, country music is dangerous again.

Frontman Josh Mazour formed Crooks in 2007 as a two-piece band, playing stripped down sets at dive bars around Austin. Things have grown from there. He’s now joined by drummer Rob Bacak, stand-up bassist Andrew VanVoorhees, and multi-instrumentalist Sam Alberts, who alternates between guitar, banjo, mandolin, and trumpet. Live, Crooks are an even greater spectacle, as fiddle, trumpet, and accordion players jump on stage throughout their set.
Crooks released their debut LP ‘The Rain Will Come’ this year, featuring guest appearances from accordion legend Flaco Jimenez of the Texas Tornados, and produced by Danny Reisch, known for his work with other Austin luminaries like The Bright Light Social Hour, Okkervil River, Shearwater, and White Denim.

Mazour lists songwriting greats like Hank Williams Sr., Townes Van Zandt, Billy Joe Shaver, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Blaze Foley and even Kurt Cobain as influences on his style, which he describes as “just unapologetic country songwriting.”

“Country music is honest music,” he says. “You can get straight to your point, and if no one likes it, that's fine. But you don't have to hide your feelings in tired metaphors and youthful whining.” ‘The Rain Will Come’ has been a resounding success, kicking down doors for the band on a national level. American Songwriter called it “a driving slice of country noir,” and praised it as “rugged and lonesome,” saying “this style of country music makes you want to keep your tab open.” KUT-FM put their money on Crooks as the “Austin artist most likely to score big in 2012,” while the Austin American-Statesman predicts that “the seemingly endless stream of media praise… points toward something bigger coming.” But Mazour takes it all in stride. “I write songs because it's the only thing I'm good at doing. I have no idea what else to do with myself at this point,” he says. “I know I'm still gonna piss some people off, make mistakes, and that I have a lot to learn. If I write a drinking song, it's probably because I went to sleep at six in the morning the night before. That's another thing that sets us apart from a lot of country musicians. I don't think these some of these guys even go to bars anymore. We do, a lot.”

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